Tuesday, August 15, 2006

A Look At "Luther, Exposing The Myth" (Part One)

To The Right: The webpage "Luther, Exposing The Myth" attacks the Reformer with the alleged "facts" against him along with this picture of his "death mask". The picture though is not the "death mask". Even if it were, evidence put forth by Luther scholar Heinrich Boehmer suggests the mask is not authentic (see his book, Luther And The Reformation In The Light Of Modern Research, 349-350).

"Luther, Exposing The Myth"attributes this picture to the artist "Lucas Fortnagel – Leipzig, University Library."Probably "Fortenagel" was meant.Only a few paintings of Luther after his death exist, and this painting to the right might not even be the work of Fortenagel (compare this painting with that of Fortenagel's in Oberman's Luther: Man Between God And The Devil, 7).

There are countless web-pages written against the Reformers- I’m always amazed how many there are. Recently, I was reminded of a particularly bad webpage: Luther, Exposing The Myth by Raymond Taouk. Taouk has put together one of the worst web-pages I’ve ever come across: context, history, and truth don’t seem to be any sort of factor in Taouk’s analysis of Luther. As the issues raised by Taouk are the usual Catholic invective, I think it would be worthwhile to work through his webpage, and demonstrate the recklessness of someone with a few books, a flawed religious worldview, and access to the Internet.

Taouk begins,

Who will doubt that the best judge of Luther’s true character is Luther himself? And so from Luther’s own words we shall see him for what he really was, that is a rebellious apostate, who abandoned the faith and led many into apostasy from God under the guise of “reformation” in order to follow his perverse inclinations. Keeping in mind that none of the following statements of Luther, which I will quote, were ever retracted by him, and so they may still be considered as part of his “religious thought”. This should show the aspect of Martin Luther which Protestants and all alike so conveniently overlooked in these days of false ecumenism and intellectual dishonesty.”

Taouk begins with bold rhetoric that immediately demonstrates a naïveté about his subject. He thinks that Luther never “retracted” the statements he will quote. Any Reformation scholar will explain though that Luther’s theology grew and developed. His positions on many issues were in a state of flux as he reevaluated the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church in light of the sole authority of Scripture. Had Taouk actually studied his subject, he would find that Luther himself admits he wasn’t always consistent, and certain statements that were not retracted were nonetheless denied by Luther (See for instance his autobiographical admissions in his Preface To The Complete Editions Of Luther’s Latin Writings, 1545). The statements though that Taouk will quote by and large are only outrageous because he’s ignored the context (immediate, historical, or overarching theological). Protestants don’t “overlook” comments from Luther: they try to read them in context, as anyone honestly approaching a historical figure would do.

One may get the notion from such bold rhetoric that Taouk has done extensive study of Luther’s writings. Skimming through his footnotes, one is amazed at the collection of German books and collections he’s cited Luther from: Erlangen and Weimar German editions of Luther’s Works, Enders, Trischreden, Wittenberg Edition, etc. Some of the books cited have been out of print well over 100 years, like Dewette. A few of the references don’t even make sense to me, like “De Liv. Chris. Tom. 4:2”. Some of the references don’t give enough information to even qualify as references, like “Of Married Life”, “On Marriage”, or “Lecture At Wittenberg.”

I strongly doubt Taouk has read any of the German editions of Luther’s Works, or volumes by Dewette. He does reference a few secondary materials that I think he actually did read: he probably strongly relied on Father Patrick O’Hare’s Facts About Luther for many of the outrageous quotes utilized. He may have actually used Hartmann Grisar’s Luther Volume IV and Jacques Maritan in one or two instances. If you read my blog regularly, you know how I feel about Father O’Hare’s book: I have gone on record stating (and proving) it is one of the worst books on Luther ever written in English. Grisar fares better, but along with Maritan generally is classified in the genre of outdated Luther-vilifying Roman Catholic polemic.

Taouk also uses the popular article by Peter F. Wiener, Hitler's Spiritual Ancenstor (1945). Wiener was a school teacher from Prussia. The webmaster that hosts "Luther, Exposing The Myth" informed me the link was "largely based" on Wiener's article. This may be one of the main reasons then that Taouk is so misinformed about Luther. Wiener was not a scholar, and his small work on Luther is "full of falsifications of quotations and dishonest rhetoric that it cannot be taken seriously as a scholarly work" according to Lutheran theologian Uwe Siemon-Netto. Siemon-Netto, along with other scholars have reviewed and commented on the value of Wiener's essay, and have found it far from accurate. If Taouk's main intent was accurate research, one wonders if he sought out any of the reviews of "Hitler's spiritual Ancenstor" that have been published in the last 50+ years. My speculation is that he did not.

In only two or three references Taouk may have actually read Luther proper: he mentions John Dillenberger’s compilation of brief selections from Luther’s writings and a selection from Project Wittenberg. Taouk quotes Luther approximately 50 times, maybe only 4 or 5 times can one have any certainty that he actually read Luther proper, rather than someone else’s second hand work of extracted citations. This is a common practice among those who make vilifying web pages of Luther: they haven’t actually read Luther, they’ve read some quotes attributed to Luther by someone touting propaganda an agenda, or a differing religious view.

I can’t begin to emphasize how important it is to actually read a person’s words in context. Secondary sources can be helpful, but actually reading writers words rather than having them filtered through a biographer can be profoundly enlightening. I’m not saying that a biography shouldn’t be read, but if possible, check the references. If you read something outrageous, go get the book in question and determine whether or not the citation is accurate. Luther in particular is extremely easy to misquote. In my own studies and interactions with people, my primary emphasis has been the Reformation period. I began interacting with various critics of the Reformation period- which drove me to do ad fontes work. The charge,“ Luther said…” in my thinking becomes “What did Luther really say, and why did he say it?”

I doubt Raymond Taouk asked these questions when he compiled his Luther quotes. In the next few days I’m going to go through some of the quotes he used, and demonstrate that “Luther, Exposing The Myth” is not the result of a detailed investigation into what Luther actually said or meant. It is yet another link put forth by Catholic apologetics that makes their work look very silly. Sorry to be so blunt, but when something is bogus, I think it should be pointed out. Truth and fairness did not really matter in “Luther, Exposing The Myth”. They lay slain in the cyber-streets of the World Wide Web.

Adendum: I did contact the site that hosts "Luther, Exposing The Myth" to let the author Raymond Taouk know about my review. I couldn't seem to find his e-mail address on the website. They responded: "We will forward Mr. Taouk's your comments and ask him to send us a respond.Once he has sent us a response to your article, we will try to forward to you what he sends back to us. " A response will indeed be interesting. I am not expecting one, but I would appreciate the link "Luther, Exposing The Myth" be either removed, or edited to reflect balance and truth.